Letters to the Editor

Critical Areas Ordinance is arbitrary, invasive and unnecessary

I have lived on the island for more than 20 years. I enjoy the ambiance of the island and its varied wildlife, and would like to see it continue the same way for the rest of my life.

I do not believe the increased buffers outlined in the Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO) Guidelines are needed. In fact, they constitute an illegal taking of property.

In the past 20 years, I have not seen any deterioration of our environment. It has certainly become more populated, but the quality of our shorelines and wildlife has not decreased. So, why do we need these new CAO guidelines? The environmental guidelines in place have served us well over the years.

Although the resident orca population has declined, even NOAA cannot pinpoint a specific cause. It makes no sense to make blanket changes when the cause of the problem is unknown.

As a professional geotechnical engineer, I do not understand how any increase in buffer setbacks from shorelines, wetlands or streams will help our whales or other wildlife. It appears that these setbacks are arbitrarily set.

We cannot rely on the principles of best available science to give us a realistic analysis. They are not scientifically proven and contain far too many variables. In addition, they relate to conditions in Puget Sound which is vastly different than the shoreline condition in the islands.

I have been personally involved with numerous shoreline slope retaining projects on the islands using natural rockeries, and when constructed correctly, they do not interfere with shoreline processes. I have also observed well constructed rockeries that have been in place for over a decade with no adverse affects to the shoreline.

The toxicity that affects our whales is caused by other sources, not from our single-family shorelines. Other sources of toxicity could be sewage that is dumped into our waters and even from the outflow of large rivers. Most of our shoreline development consists of homes founded on bedrock with native growth between the houses and shorelines. I doubt very much that shoreline homeowners on this island use massive amounts of fertilizer and chemicals.

If these extreme buffers are adopted, almost every shoreline and many other inland homes near wetlands and so-called “streams” will become non-conforming. The existing structures may be grandfathered in, but what if the owner wants to put in an addition to the home? They will have to go through an expensive and time-consuming process. They will have to hire consultants just to prove their addition will not adversely affect the environment. Should they want to sell their home, the potential purchaser would have no idea of what it would cost to permit an addition to the existing home. Thus, the value of the home and property is reduced due to the uncertainty of future costs.

I understand that several potential sales have already been lost due to the possibility of the CAO becoming a reality. Make no mistake about it, the value of shoreline and other affected properties will go down with the likely consequence of lower tax revenue to the county and higher taxes to CAO unaffected homeowners.

I have an organic raised-bed vegetable garden that is within the buffer zone. It appears that I will have to go through the permitting process to add another bed since gardens are not allowed in the buffer zone.

Adopting the proposed CAO sounds environmentally friendly. However, it will not reduce human impacts on the environment and will lead to higher taxes on other properties not affected by the CAO.

There is no valid reason to force these illegal property taking laws on the citizens of our islands. Our shorelines are governed by the Shoreline Management Act, which has more than sufficiently protected our shorelines thus far. We do not need an arbitrary and invasive ordinance forced upon our already environmentally friendly citizens.

Bob Levinson
Friday Harbor

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